For a monthly fee of $4.99 with ads or $7.99 without, Quibi will offer a wide variety of content. Episodes are no longer than 10 minutes and include everything from the highly polished (a new Steven Spielberg horror series) to the raw (a celebrity-judge show with Chrissy Teigen) — a kind of Netflix of short form. About 50 shows will be made available within two weeks of launch.
All content is optimized, and made exclusively, for mobile platforms. The gamble is that this is how an on-the-move, 21st-century consumer wants to watch content ) — and that the full-episode bingeing ethos of streaming isn’t satisfying that need.
But this is certainly an odd time to be launching anything, let alone a brand with no built-in base or recognition. The Washington Post sat down with Katzenberg virtually to discuss debuting a new service in the time of the coronavirus.
Normally, one starts these conversations by asking why. But I think the bigger question is: ‘Why now?'
The virus is obviously unexpected and unprecedented. But we’re making the best of the hand we’re dealt. And we’re hoping Quibi may actually be a nice distraction, bring some relief, some laughter and happiness, at a moment when you can’t find enough of it.
How much did you deliberate whether to stay on track for this early-April release? You and Meg must have looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe this isn’t a great time.’
Meg and I did sit down and have a heart-to-heart about whether we should stay on course. And what we realized is that from the first moment, the goal, the whole mission, of Quibi, was to inform, entertain and inspire. And what we both said to each other is, “We think we can fulfill that goal.” We’re actually quite proud to be doing something that can lift spirits at this moment in time.
One concern would be asking consumers to pay a new monthly fee, for yet another streamer, at a moment when many are facing economic hardship.
We did think about that a lot. And we decided to give Quibi free to everybody for 90 days. We originally had just a two-week free trial. But we said no, let’s make it free and make it available in a way that is more significant, and make it easier for people.
You’re a mobile-first company; content is designed for all those down minutes on a train or at a waiting room — exactly what we’re not doing now.
I don’t think we lost the in-between moments. The virus has just changed them, made them different. You’re not commuting to work or standing in line at Starbucks. But you actually probably have more in-between moments than you did six weeks ago.
How have you been impacted in terms of your own workflow?
In a way that completely surprises me, we haven’t skipped a beat. Maybe it’s because we’re a digital platform, but we’ve been isolated 17 days, and we really got the kinks out and the working rhythm going. I do enjoy the face-to-face, but can’t say the results are any less effective. We had 100 pitches last week. Which is on par with what we were having the weeks before we began isolating.
That will only go so far though, right? Production, for one thing, is very tricky right now.
Yes, you can’t actually make anything. It has all been on the front end — presentations and pitches and script development. It’s very time consuming and very valuable to be able to do it now.
The aim of Quibi is to churn out a lot, and quickly. How much content do you have in the pantry before it runs out?
We have enough of a slate that we can be publishing new content all the way into October or November, possibly even Thanksgiving. We were lucky to have a lot of movie production completed and a full slate of our “movies in chapters.” In terms of unscripted work … we have a strong inventory of content already completed, and a fair number of shows in postproduction, which can be finished. The only show sidelined was a daily comedy show called “Drop the Mic,” because it relies on comedy clubs and obviously those are closed. We also publish 24 shows every day that are news, information and inspiration — a lot of hard news, shows with NBC and the BBC. That’s moving ahead and very timely now.
A number of networks are contemplating remote shoots. Could you do that?
We have assumed production isn’t going to start up in any meaningful way until late summer. We’ll be fine if that’s true. I don’t know how we’d be if it was a worse trajectory. Maybe we’ll have to be distancing; maybe we’ll have to avoid large crowds. Adversity is the mother of invention and we [in Hollywood] are an inventive bunch.
What’s your pitch on why we need this now?
We spent a year-and-a-half working with the best storytellers and creators in Hollywood, and then making content beautiful on phones in a way that I think is not like anything you’ve ever seen before. At a moment in time when every day offers a lot of bad news and not a lot of escape, we are able to bring some delight and some cheer. We lift spirits. That’s what we do in Hollywood. I’m not a medic, I’m not an EMT or doctor or somebody who can make ventilators. I can’t do all of those things that are so imperative in this moment. But I know how to lift people’s spirits. I can make people laugh or bring a moment of diversion from the challenges. We still need moments, we still need breaks. That’s what we’re trying to create.